Trump and Trudeau Close the U.S.-Canadian Border

Mexicans entering illegally and Europeans seeking entry at Southwest ports also to be returned?

By Andrew R. Arthur on March 19, 2020

Topic Page: Covid-19 and Immigration

  • The U.S.-Canadian border will be shut to all movement except commercial traffic and urgent and essential travelers.
  • Canada is also barring the entry of all foreigners except for permanent residents, diplomats, and flight crews.
  • Those seeking asylum in Canada will be subject to a 14-day quarantine.
  • Press outlets have reported that the United States will also return all Mexican-national adults apprehended entering illegally across the Southwest border, and possibly nationals of other countries, including Europeans whose entry is currently barred, seeking admission at the ports of entry.
  • Asylum officers have been removed from detention facilities where they have been conducting credible fear interviews.
  • USCIS has suspended routine in-person services until at least April 1.

President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau don't agree on much. But on Wednesday, they agreed to close the U.S.-Canadian border indefinitely to all traffic except for commercial vehicles, as well as "urgent" and undefined "essential" travel, to stem the spread of the Wuhan Flu. This is an unprecedented step, and one that that the two nations did not even implement following the 9/11 attacks.

The boundary, which runs 5,525 miles, is known as the "world's longest undefended border" for a reason. Some $2.7 billion in goods and trade pass between the two nations every day, and transactions between the United States and Canada total some $37 billion per year. Put another way, 75.4 percent of all of Canada's exports came to the United States in 2019, and while China surpassed the Dominion as our largest trading partner in 2015, Canada received the largest percentage of American exports (17.8 percent) last year.

In addition, in 2019, 25 million Americans traveled to the Great White North, and there were more than nine million Canadians who traveled to the United States as visitors in FY 2018.

The Southwest is a particular haven for Canadians during the winter (it is not called "the Great White North" for nothing), and when I was in Yuma in January 2019, the parking lot at my hotel was full of cars from Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan.

As of Wednesday morning, there were 569 confirmed cases of the Wuhan Flu in Canada, primarily in the provinces of Ontario (189), British Columbia (186), Alberta (97), and Quebec (74). That should not come as a surprise, because those are the largest provinces, and the ones that receive the largest number of visitors. The maritime provinces have been largely spared, with two confirmed cases in New Brunswick, one each in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, and none in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The United States should not feel unduly singled out, however. Canada is also barring entry to all foreigners except for flight crews, diplomats, and permanent residents. If these measures are not effective, Trudeau stated, the country could consider prohibitions on travel within Canada, as well as "a country-wide lockdown" (although I am not sure how they would enforce that).

Interestingly, asylum seekers to Canada will still be permitted, but will be subject to a 14-day quarantine. It is not clear whether this is a step that even the Trump administration has considered, however this announcement comes a day after press outlets reported that the Trump administration was planning to return some or all migrants apprehended entering the United States illegally along the Southwest border back to Mexico, and possibly other foreign nationals whose entry is currently banned.

According to the Los Angeles Times:

Under the new policy, Border Patrol agents who apprehend Mexican adults attempting to cross the border between ports of entry will return them to Mexico at a nearby port of entry instead of detaining them, according to Brandon Judd, president of the union that represents 15,000 agents, the National Border Patrol Council.

Agents will have to check migrants' information, including criminal records, in the field. Equipment to help them perform those checks was already being distributed Tuesday, Judd said.

. . .

Judd said the policy would not apply to families, children or Central American migrants, who can only be returned to Mexico with the Mexican government's approval, while other publications reported that all migrants apprehended between ports of entry, regardless of nationality, would be returned to Mexico.

Those "other publications" include the New York Times, which reported that the policy would apply generally to all asylum seekers and all foreign nationals (including Mexicans) entering illegally, as well as to Europeans at the ports of entry whose admission is currently blocked by travel restrictions. The paper reported that this policy would not apply to lawful permanent residents and unspecified foreign nationals with visas to enter.

The Los Angeles Times also reported that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has begun to pull its asylum officers out of "detention facilities and postings across the country", where they have been conducting credible fear interviews. "While some asylum screenings will continue telephonically, other immigration interviews have been canceled until April 1."

USCIS has also suspended its other routine in-person services until that date. Its website states that "USCIS staff will continue to perform duties that do not involve contact with the public. However, USCIS will provide emergency services for limited situations," although the agency did not elaborate on what those "limited situations" are.